NEW YORK – Soon after the world watched Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in initiate talks during a historic peace summit, critics began questioning the sincerity of the North Korean leader’s commitment to denuclearize. Recent headlines have only intensified those doubts. This negotiation took place on a global stage, but the question it highlights is a common one: to what extent can you trust that your partner is being honest in a negotiation? And while being dishonest in the course of a negotiation has traditionally been associated with greed or other personality traits, new research from Columbia Business School reveals that the best predictor of a deceptive negotiator is how he or she views the values of the person across from them.
In “From belief to deceit: How expectancies about others’ ethics shape deception in negotiations,” published this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Columbia Business School’s Malia Mason, Elizabeth Wiley and Daniel Ames consider how a person’s behavior in the course of a negotiation is influenced by their expectations and misperceptions of others’ morals, even more so than their own personal beliefs.
“Negotiators often use deception in pursuit of personal gains, but our research unveils another motivation,” said Malia Mason, Associate Professor of Management at Columbia Business School. “We find that negotiators tend to be pessimistic about other peoples’ ethical standards. This view about how other people are likely to act often leads negotiators to deceive, regardless of their own moral view.”
The ‘Paranoid Cynics’
In a four-part study, the researchers move beyond the traditional portrait of the deceptive negotiator as simply a calculating schemer, and test to what extent the negotiator’s choice to deceive is shaped by the expectation that his or her deal-making partner might embrace deceptive tactics. Their study finds evidence of widespread pessimism – with negotiators consistently overestimating the prevalence of people who embrace deceptive tactics. This phenomenon extends beyond Americans, with similar findings for Chinese students and Turkish adults.
“We call these negotiators the ‘paranoid cynics’ because they are drawn into deception not so much because of their own appetites but because of their read – or potential misread – of what others are like,” said Daniel Ames, Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.
The results suggest that, while cynicism varies from one person to the next, some highly cynical people might be more inclined to lie because they sense that everyone else is doing it.
These findings have important implications for anyone at the negotiating table because they illustrate how even people who consider lying morally wrong play a role in perpetuating the duplicitous behavior they expect from others.
“Our work shows how the changing social context of trust can flow into negotiations – and can sometimes become self-fulfilling,” said Ames.
Tips to Defeat Deceit at the Negotiating Table
Deal-makers may be able to combat deception by focusing more energy on getting their counterparts to trust them and less time on assessing the trustworthiness of others. The researchers suggest looking for opportunities to be transparent and share some information with counterparts. By doing so, there is a chance they reciprocate, and you could work your way to greater mutual trust.
In addition to building rapport and developing trust, negotiators may also be able to mitigate deceptive behavior by signaling that it is counter-normative. According to the researchers, people are far less likely to behave deceptively when they think such behavior is uncommon.
“Our findings leave us optimistic that dishonesty can be reduced by addressing the pessimistic beliefs people have about others' willingness to embrace deceptive tactics,” said Mason.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.